A National Conservative Case for Arming Ukraine

Some nationally minded conservatives regard U.S. military aid to Ukraine as yet another internationalist D.C. foreign policy crusade conducted at the expense of taxpayers and potentially American lives.

A closer look suggests that if pursued properly, well-targeted military and intelligence aid to Ukraine can directly serve U.S. interests and security in the best traditions of American realism and restraint. 

One need not be a NeverTrumper, Russiagate obsessive, or nostalgist for 1990s globaloney to see that the conquest of a major central European country by Putin damages the United States. Stopping it in ways that make future invasions less likely, whether by Russia or China—and doing so without direct U.S. military intervention—is well worth the investment, albeit with critical caveats.

The strategic lens through which to view the Russo-Ukrainian war is not Europe but Asia. So many analysts across the political spectrum have missed that. By equipping Ukraine against Russia, we are degrading China’s sole great power ally—and one of its leading providers of energy, food, and military technology. 

Every dollar of U.S. military investment destroys a bounty of Russian materiel: a classic cost-imposition strategy at its most practical and effective. Too often, the United States has been on the wrong side of such equations, as in the most recent Iraq and Afghan wars. For the first time in more than a generation, when President Reagan armed anti-communists against Soviet clients in the developing world, the United States is wielding the asymmetric advantage. 

A bloodied, discredited Russia gives Xi pause as he considers a cross-straits invasion. U.S. spine in Ukraine makes our warnings to China credible—at a time when the military balance in the Pacific is precarious, given U.S. shortcomings relative to Beijing’s modernization program and inherent home field advantage. We need every ration of deterrence we can get.

With this context, our funds to arm Ukraine, though significant, yield outsized gains for the United States relative to the cost—certainly compared to virtually every other major American military operation of the past 30 years. 

Concerns about the impact of Ukrainian military assistance on U.S. preparedness to fight in Asia are legitimate. In reality, the weapons we are sending Ukraine are predominantly short-range—Javelin anti-tank launchers, field artillery and missile tubes, and ammunition. They are of limited utility in what would be long-distance air, naval, and space-dominated conflict with China. (If U.S. soldiers are in trenches in Taipei fighting PLA tanks, we have failed).

In the immense expanses of the Pacific, the decisive conventional U.S. “fires” are extended-range strike munitions: Tomahawks, Harpoons, Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs), ATACMs (Army Tactical Missiles), Naval Strike Missiles (NSMs), and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs). 

We should not supply Ukraine with the longer-range missiles we need against China (and these could heighten the risk of a general war with Russia). Ukraine has asked for ATACMs, and we should continue to decline to send them. Ukraine can acquire other weapons with our European allies to redress the imbalance with Russia. Nor is the reason compelling for the United States to offer Ukraine economic aid when the EU, a more than $15 trillion economic block, is next door. 

The time is right to take a page from the Reagan playbook and get the Europeans to reverse their underinvestment in military power. True, some NATO allies are now raising defense spending, a few to the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of GDP. Closer to 3 percent is what is needed. If South Korea can do it, Europe can too. The boost in NATO capability would be massive, securing the continent. 

2022 unmasks the imprudence and impudence of the European greens and their American anti-fossil fuel cousins. They have strangled natural gas drilling and transportation, petroleum refining, and the deployment of ultra-safe next-generation modular reactors, which generate carbon-free energy, plus rare earth elements our society sorely needs. Europe fed Russia’s conceit when it gave the Kremlin so much say over its energy supply. Swelling our reliance on Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Venezuelan-sourced energy when we have the means to produce batteries, gas, and sweet crude at home, not to mention middle-class jobs, is impulsive. 

America’s task is a fine balance: provide Ukraine with enough weapons to withstand Russia’s assault while not providing such types as to spark a general nuclear war. The Russians and Chinese skillfully did this to the United States in Vietnam, bleeding us to the point where we abandoned the fight. 

Many additional steps are still needed to bolster American deterrence against China. The most essential: double the construction of warships and submarines and quintuple the manufacture of middle- and long-range missiles. A U.S. and allied military build-up—combined with a steady denuding of China’s major allies and strategic options—would prevent aggression at a fraction of the cost of a great power war in the Pacific. 

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About Jeffrey Jeb Nadaner

Jeffrey Jeb Nadaner was deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Trump Administration.

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